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John On Wine ­ – Mendocino Musings

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on February 13, 2014 by John Cesano

John Parducci was born Jan. 22, 1918 and died last week on Feb. 4, 2014 at the age of 96. John is the Parducci folks think of when they think of Parducci wine; and more recently, together with his grandson Rich, John was involved with McNab Ridge Winery.

John was named “Winemaker of the Year” at the Los Angeles County Fair, inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame, bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Winemaking, and was a California State Fair Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. John was the first to put the words “Mendocino County” on his wines. Growing up, there was often a bottle of wine made by John Parducci in our family home. John Parducci is a true Mendocino County wine icon, his contribution to the industry cannot be overstated, and he will be missed greatly.

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William Kubran visited me this week and brought me a pullout from USA Weekend featuring North America’s most romantic places, in cooperation with 10Best. Making the list was Mendocino, California.

William brought my attention to the write up, “Mendocino perches dramatically above the Pacific, a cliffside village brimming with galleries, cozy bistros and bookstores. Sonoma County wines add to the perfection.”

Really? Sonoma County wines add to the perfection of a visit to Mendocino? I suppose in the same way that Maryland blue crabs are a great dinner option when visiting Mendocino. In fairness, I suppose the writer of the piece was operating from a place of ignorance, not knowing that Mendocino grows great grapes and makes great wine. With 75 percent of the grapes grown in Mendocino County ending up in Sonoma and Napa County wines because the quality of our grapes is stellar, while the price is roughly half paid for grapes from those two counties. We do not enjoy the degree of recognition for our wines. I know that my writing is preaching to the choir, that folks in Ukiah are aware that Mendocino County wines are both good and value priced.

It is gratifying to see each mention of Mendocino County wines from writers not named John Cesano. Recently, the entire line up of 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines were tasted and reviewed by the folks at the Connoisseurs Guide to California Wines, and by Anthony Dias Blue for The Tasting Panel. I look forward to the day when Mendocino County wines are recommended for a visit to Mendocino in a story written for USA Today.

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In Sonoma County, whether your wines come from the Russian River Valley or Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley or Sonoma Valley, all wines must carry the Sonoma County appellation name on the bottle. In Mendocino County, wines may be labeled Potter Valley or Anderson Valley, and not include the words Mendocino County on the label.

Confusingly, Mendocino County wines may be labeled Mendocino instead of Mendocino County, while no one from Healdsburg would think of putting Sonoma instead of Sonoma County on their wine. Mendocino and Sonoma are towns; Wine labels that are meant to indicate a county should do so more clearly and, like Sonoma County, all wines from Mendocino County grapes should be labeled Mendocino County, in addition to any more definitive American Viticultural Area place name or vineyard designation.

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Valentine’s Day (and night) is coming up tomorrow, and for me that means bubbly. Here is a list of local bubbly producers in Mendocino County (some may be sold out): Elke Vineyards, Goldeneye, Graziano Family of Wines, Handley Cellars, Jeriko Estate, Lichen Estate, McFadden Vineyard, Navarro Vineyards, Nelson Family Vineyards, Paul Dolan Vineyards, Ray’s Station, Scharffenberger Cellars, Roederer Estate, Signal Ridge, Standish Wine Company, Terra Savia, and Yorkville Cellars.

Two producers of note: Roederer Estate has a 2004 L’Ermitage that was the #1 Wine of the Year for Wine Enthusiast Magazine and sells for $47, and McFadden Vineyard is the only producer to earn two Double Gold Medals at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Guinness McFadden lowered the price of both of his double gold medal winners 20 percent, so everyone could afford to indulge in quality bubbly this Valentine’s Day; his NV Sparkling Brut is $20 and his 2009 Reserve Brut is $32.

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Speaking of Double Gold Medals from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, every Gold Medal, Double Gold Medal, and Best of Class award winning wine from among the 5,825 entered into judging at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle wine Competition will be poured for tasting this Saturday at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Look for wines by Alder Springs, Bliss/Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Handley, Husch, Kimmel, McFadden, Naughty Boy, Navarro, Parducci, Philo Ridge, Seebass, and more. Tickets are $65 in advance, $80 at the door. http://www.winejudging.com/event_tickets.htm.

Note: This column originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, December 19, 2013 -

Wow, the last column before Christmas. This is where I am supposed to write the cliché “Holiday Gifts for your Wine Lover” piece. I’ll probably mention a couple of things that I like, but first, I have a couple of notes of thanks:

Thank you to everyone who, after reading my column last week, came to the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room with a new unwrapped toy donation for our Toys For Tots toy drive & wine tasting event. We just about doubled the number of toys brought in last year, and we will be able to bring these toys to the Hopland Volunteer Fire Department for the wonderful firemen to deliver, helping Santa, on Christmas Eve. The thanks for this success, and the joy and smiles of the children helped, is all because of you, and I am incredibly grateful.

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Thanks also go to my boss Guinness McFadden and to our winemakers Bob Swain and Mark Beaman. Last week, I was invited to sit in on tastes of wines we’ll release in the future, and helped shape a future Coro blend. I am a taster guy; I taste wine, describe it, and sell it. I know the rudimentary process of winemaking, but this knowledge is much more theory than practice, and sitting with two accomplished winemakers in their realm, not mine, was a terrific experience. I learned a ton, and I gained a new and valuable perspective.

Finally, many folks to thank for last week’s Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Ukiah, featuring the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines.

First, thanks to my boss for picking up the tab for my dinner. Next, thanks to the entire staff at Crush, from chefs Jesse and Nate and their entire kitchen crew to the front of house team, for another spectacularly executed wine dinner experience. Speaking of front of house team, thanks to Julie Golden from Coro Mendocino for working alongside the team to pour a plentitude of delicious wine. Huge thanks go to local superstar photographer Tom Liden; as soon as I saw Tom with his camera, I knew I could leave my picture taking device in it’s bag. Finally, thanks to everyone who attended the dinner; without you and the energy you bring, there would be no special wine dinners.

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Photography by Tom Liden, Tom Liden Photography

The Coro Dinner at Crush saw the largest event gathering, 70 guests, in the history of all three Crush restaurants, and the event sold out earlier than any previous dinner, with many people on a waiting list, hoping for a cancellation.

I love the Zinfandel based blends of the Coro Mendocino program, they were all delicious. Food highlights for me were the wedge salad with Nueske bacon, blue cheese, and red onions; the crab balls – they were billed as cakes, but trust me they were balls; oysters Rockefeller; and Prime Rib with all the trimmings. For me, the best, and most memorable, food and wine pairing of the night was at dessert, when the Butterscotch Budino, a bowl with chocolate pudding on the bottom, then caramel pearls, then butterscotch pudding, topped with Chantilly cream and mint – you dug down to get all layers with each spoonful – was paired with the Double Gold and Best of Class awarded 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling. I expected delicious, but this pairing left delicious far behind; this was a perfect pairing. A spoon and a tiny sip, another spoon and another sip, until, too soon, it was gone.

This dinner series is a treat, and I’ll let you know about future dinners when I hear about them.

The next scheduled Coro dinner will be the 2011 vintage release party at the Little River Inn on Saturday, June 28, 2014. For more info, or to make a reservation, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.

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Okay, here are some wine gift recommendations for Christmas:

Wine. Visit any winery tasting room, enjoy a wine tasting if you have the time, and pick up some delicious wines for the holidays. Wine makes a great hostess gift when you visit for a Christmas party or dinner. Wine makes food taste better, so you should serve it at your table too. A couple of bottles wrapped and placed under the tree make for great emergency gifts when someone gives you a gift and you hadn’t purchased a gift for them yet. Wine was Christ’s first miracle, and he offered a cup to the dinner guests at His last supper, so wine infuses a little miracle into this season of Christmas.

Wine gadgets. A good wine opener, an aerator, reusable bottle stoppers, a Champagne stopper, and a can of argon or argon mixed with nitrogen to preserve wine between glasses are all great gifts that a wine lover will appreciate.

Wine books: I have two to recommend. The first features the words of Heidi Cusick Dickerson, who wrote a weekly wine column in the Journal before I did, and the photography of Tom Liden, and is focused on the wines, wineries, and vineyards of Mendocino County. The book is Mendocino Roots & Ridges and retails for $29.95. It is gorgeously rich in content, and hand signed copies by Heidi and Tom are available widely, including the McFadden tasting room in Hopland.

The second book has a larger focus, The New California Wine by San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne retails at $35, and is available at better book stores everywhere. Among my favorite dozen inland Mendocino vineyards that Bonne notes are Eaglepoint Ranch, Gibson Ranch, Heart Arrow Ranch, Lolonis, McFadden Farm, Sun Hawk, and Testa; as well almost twenty Anderson Valley properties. The book is a look at California’s wine industry today, growers, winemakers, and the wines, and is an absolute must have book for anyone serious enough about wine to have a library of wine books.
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That’s it, some thanks, a couple of wine gift ideas, and this wish: Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or whatever year end wish for happiness works for you, from me.

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John On Wine ­ – What wine goes with Turkey?

Originally published November 21, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

 

Thanksgiving dinner: What are you having? This year, the lure became too strong and a turducken shipped overnight from Louisiana will be the feature treat for me. For those of you who do not know what a turducken is (vegetarians would be best served skipping the next bit, moving on to the next paragraph right about now) a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey, with layers of creole cornbread stuffing in between each bird. Careful deboning is involved. Some folks make this a DIY project at home, but a call to the Cajun Grocer is much easier.

In the past, I’ve brined, I’ve baked, and I’ve set turkeys to turning in a set-it-and-forget-it rotisserie machine. Our family and many other Italian American families often had crab cioppino on Thanksgiving.

There was a store where I grew up that made arrangements with boats for their entire catch and huge trucks would be loaded at the docks, and run into town to make the freshest crab available for Thanksgiving.

The store ran ads for the crab at spectacularly low prices, using the crab as a loss leader to bring every Italian American in town to their store to shop for all of their holiday food. The result was a counter lined up eight deep with folks waiting to get their crab orders filled; two crabs, four crabs, eight crabs.

The last time I made crab cioppino using my sainted mother’s recipe, I used 16 whole crabs, cooked up two huge pots, used a ton of other shellfish and big chunks of white fish, plus a red sauce that cooked over 24 hours.

Something is wrong with my brother, okay many things are wrong with my brother, but only I can say that (well, I’m sure his ex-wives do, too); anyway, my brother does not like turkey. I get not liking mass produced, pumped up with water, 59 cents a pound, flavorless turkeys, but my brother doesn’t even like the million dollar a pound organic, free range, Willie Bird turkeys grown in Sonoma County. On Thanksgiving he cooks up a ham, a huge delicious ham.

In addition to a main course dish, of course, there is the stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, candied yams, polenta, baked oysters, cranberry chutney, green salads, pumpkin pie, apple pie, minced meat pie, and so much more served at the typical Thanksgiving table. I mention all these foods that people eat at Thanksgiving because when it comes to Thanksgiving’s varied meals, there is no one singular right wine.

No wine goes with everything, and let’s face it, nearly everything ends up on our Thanksgiving dinner tables. My solution lately has been to bring an assortment of wines to our family Thanksgiving dinner feast, cooked by my son’s maternal grandmother, my ex-wife’s mom. I think they continue to invite me because of the wine. Oh, and this year, I’m bringing a wild rice and broccoli casserole, too.

Conveniently, I work in a place that sells both wine and wild rice. Wild rice is also great for stuffings, and that provides the opportunity for a wine pairing trick. Cook some of your food in wine that you want to serve at the dinner. By cooking a wild rice stuffing in some Pinot Gris, or cooking down the onions, celery, and carrots that will go into your stuffing in a little Pinot Gris, then the Pinot Gris that you serve with dinner will tie back to the food.

I always cooked my crab cioppino in a red sauce that included some rich red Zinfandel, and I would serve the same wine at the table. My ham glaze has a little Coro Mendocino red blend in the mix. The whipped cream for a trifle, or to top a pie, has a little Late Harvest Riesling in it. If you aren’t a cook with wine sort, or you cook strictly to recipes and are afraid to incorporate some wine into your dish, then you are either going to have to find a food chameleon, a wine that goes with many foods, or an assortment of wines for your Thanksgiving table.

Pinot Noir is a relatively soft red wine that goes with many dishes. The soft dry cherry notes, light herb, and slightly earthy quality of Pinot Noir, make for a red not overwhelmingly big and bold, and allow it to pair spectacularly well, classically well, with dishes from salmon to pork. Local solid producers include Barra and Girasole of Redwood Valley, Parducci and Paul Dolan in Ukiah, Jeriko Estate and Saracina between Ukiah and Hopland, and Naughty Boy and Cesar Toxqui Cellars in Hopland.

Blends are a smart choice, because with different grapes come multiple wine flavors, and multi noted wines can pair with a wider variety of dishes than many single varietal wines. The county’s most famous blend is Coro Mendocino and the lightest, most food friendly style, the only one under 14 percent alcohol is the McFadden Coro, a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah. Other Coro Mendocino wines that would pair well with many Thanksgiving dinner spreads are made by Ray’s Station and Brutocao Cellars. McFadden, Ray’s Station, and Brutocao are all located in Hopland.

Rosé wines are too often passed on because folks often associate all rosés with the cheapest and worst made White Zinfandel when the truth is that some of the most delicious wines available are dry rosés of Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, or Zinfandel. Terrific examples include those made by Campovida, Graziano, Frey, and McNab Ridge in Hopland, and Testa Ranch in Calpella.

Bubblies are one of the most popular bottles I bring, often finished first at a family holiday dinner. Great bubbly producers include Terra Sávia and McFadden in Hopland, and Nelson between Ukiah and Hopland.

Thanksgiving is about celebration with family and friends, about overflowing cornucopias and abundance. My recommendation is to grab a number of bottles, perhaps one or more from each of the categories above, an assortment of wines from an assortment of producers, all local, all delicious. Every wine mentioned is available for tasting this weekend, either complimentary or tasting fee refunded with purchase, so stock up on great wines that will make your Thanksgiving meal taste better, and your festivities more festive.

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John On Wine ­ – Alphabet soup (VMC, MWI, AVWA, ATORV, DH, YHGVA)

Originally published on November 7, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano


Last week was remarkable for inland Mendocino County’s wine scene. In a perfect example of “when it rains, it pours,” after I had complained that the wineries of inland Mendocino county receive scant attention when compared to the folks over in the Anderson Valley, all of a sudden we started getting noticed.

First, of course, was the San Francisco Chronicle’s tasting room reviewer for the Sunday travel section giving a three star review to the lovely Campovida and then a three and a half star review to the small but mighty McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, both located in Hopland.

The impact, the number of first time visitors who came because of the write up, was astonishing.

Next, Visit Mendocino County (VMC) brought professional photographers for all of last week, and in addition to capturing photographs in Anderson Valley and on the coast, the Vintage Marketplace building, which houses four winery tasting rooms, in Hopland was one of the locations chosen. Any promotional efforts by VMC on behalf of the winery tasting rooms, restaurants, and places to stay here along the 101 corridor from Hopland up to Willits, will be greatly appreciated.

Huge thanks go out to Jen Filice from VMC, who shepherded photographers and models all over the county, and to Margaret Pedroni from Ray’s Station, who was instrumental in helping the Vintage Marketplace location be chosen as the new hot spot for tourism promotion.

Speaking of Margaret Pedroni, Margaret also handles marketing for Coro Mendocino and has been busy working with Dave Richards, the manager of Crush restaurant in Ukiah, to see the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines be the featured wines for the next Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner, on Wednesday, Dec. 11.

All 10 producers will be featured, Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station, but with eight of the 10 wines being made at inland wineries, hopefully this dinner will bring a little more attention to the area.

You may have noticed a sign or two, or read an ad, or heard about events while listening to local radio; we are smack dab in the middle of the Mendocino Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest. It started last weekend, and runs through this weekend.

Many wineries throughout the county take advantage of the opportunity this festival, organized and promoted by VMC, provides. For two weekends, mushroom appetizers are available to taste with wines at dozens of winery tasting rooms. I, as an example, spent four hours preparing enough mushroom risotto to feed an army, and maybe a navy and some marines too, for my tasting room.

Restaurants team with wineries to feature mushroom and wine pairing meals, like Tuesday’s delicious dinner two nights ago at Uncorked in downtown Ukiah that featured the wines of winemaker Deanna Starr of Milano and Uncorked’s magical mushroom menu.

The big event is the mushroom train, where guests travel on the Skunk Train from both Willits and Fort Bragg to Camp Mendocino in a benefit for the Mendocino County Museum to taste culinary delights paired with the best local wine and beer.

A group of celebrity judges, members of the travel, food, or wine media, take part in the mushroom train event, taste the creations, and announce their favorites.

Last Friday, the members of the press and folks from throughout Mendocino County, kicked off their weekend at a reception put on by VMC and hosted by the four winery tasting rooms of Vintage Marketplace in Hopland; Ray’s Station, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, and Naughty Boy Vineyards.

Again, it was a treat to play host to visiting press, and also to our counterparts from around the county. Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA) Executive Director Janis MacDonald was among the visitors and, always gracious, was very complimentary about one of our wines, sharing a story about how well it went over with a group recently. Poorly kept secret: I don’t only taste and drink wines from inland Mendo, and although I may not write them up, I love scores of wines made in the Anderson Valley.

Thanks to VMC’s Scott Schneider, Alison de Grassi, and Jen Filice for all you did to make the reception happen, and for making sure it was such a delightful success.

Lastly, but absolutely not leastly, the Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI) brought all of Mendocino County’s grape growers, winemakers, tasting room managers, everyone in our industry, together for a wonderful night of fellowship and celebration at a Harvest Party BBQ Dinner at Seebass Family Vineyards on Old River Road about a mile and a half north of the Buddhist Temple in Talmage. All hands were on deck for this one.

Thanks to Zak Robinson and Aubrey Rawlins of MWI, and all the folks from A Taste of Redwood Valley (ATORV), Destination Hopland (DH), Yorkville Highlands Growers & Vintners Association (YHGVA), and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for bringing so many of your folks to this special night. Hosts Scott and Michelle Willoughby could not have wished for a more perfect evening for Seebass, for inland Mendocino County, and for the county’s wine community as a whole.

Glenn McGourty, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor to Mendocino and Lake County, was presented with a richly deserved award for his many years of service to the entire county’s grape growing success; MWI announced the receipt of a grant from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency; the Mendocino Winegrowers Foundation, the non-profit organization raising resources for the Winegrowers’ Scholarship Fund, presented past recipients and fundraised for future recipients. All in all, a great night for Mendocino County’s wine industry, in the midst of a period of great promotional promise for the wineries of the inland county.

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John on Wine – Crush keeps crushing it!

Originally published on October 31, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

Wine and food. For me wine is food, an ingredient that, when added to a dish, makes a dish taste better. Pair it with the dish and the Heavens open and angels sing.

I have written about the last two Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. First I wrote a newspaper column about the amazing dinner featuring winemaker Alex MacGregor’s wines from Saracina, and then I wrote an online piece about the spectacular dinner that showcased Charlie and Martha Barra’s wines of both Barra and Girasole.

I eat at other spots, many with terrific wine lists, and I’ll get to them in future columns, but Crush just keeps on, well, crushing it.

Last week, I took the opportunity to attend the third Chef’s Wine Dinner in the ongoing series. The night featured the wines of Bonterra Organic Vineyards. These dinners have grown to become sold out events. You have to call and grab your tickets early. Two long tables in a private dining room, laid out with place settings heavy on the wine glasses, await the night’s patrons. Folks sit together, and courses are served family style, which encourages communication as platters of food from the kitchen are passed and the food and wine combinations elicit at first squeals of delight and then, later in the evening, deeper moans of over full contentment.The evening’s offerings are deceptively described as First Course, Second Course, and Dessert. I say deceptively, because there are so many more items arriving at the table than a mere three dishes.

Each “course” is actually comprised of four or five dishes. Dessert is often three dessert elements fused into one greater whole. There are often bonus tastes of passed appetizers. All told, these three courses yield ten to a dozen food experiences. I’ve described these nights as Chef Jesse off the leash, nights for him to do one thing and one thing only: impress every diner and leave a lasting impression that brings each guest back again and again. Jesse’s team of chefs do a fantastic job, and assemble at each evening’s close to take a well-earned round of applause. Of course, the front of house has to fire on all cylinders for a night like this to work, and from Manager Dave through his entire team of servers, everything on the service end just purrs.

Last week, Chef Jesse delivered braised pork belly, with a perched and poached quail egg, buerre monte, and chive sticks; a beets salad, with roasted red, golden & striped beets, goat cheese, citrus, and hazelnut champagne vinaigrette; Devils on horseback: Nueske bacon wrapping Point Reyes bleu cheese stuffed Medjool dates; and crab stuffed piquillo poppers, with Dungeness crab, avocado mousse, tomato, esplette, olive oil, and micro greens.

That was just the first course, and it was paired with the 2012 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite wine of the night, with sweet green fresh mown hay, light herb, candied lemon mint sweetness, lime and bright grapefruit notes. A 50/50 Lake/Mendocino County wine, it showed lovely balance, at once both lush and showing crisp acidity. It was a treat tasting pork belly and quail egg ­- don’t you love cutting into a perfectly cooked egg and having the yolk released to form a bonus sauce – yum. Anyway, it was a treat tasting this dish with a Sauvignon Blanc instead of a red wine. Great confidence in pairing on display. The beets salad and crab poppers were also tremendously delicious.

The Second Course featured both a 2011 Bonterra Pinot Noir, just rated 90 points by Wine Enthusaiast, and a 2010 Bonterra Zinfandel. The Pinot Noir was meaty, with strawberry, cherry, and dark rich rhubarb; really drinkable, just lovely, supple yet delicate. The Zinfandel was soft yet bold, spicy with raspberry and strawberry, vinuous anise herb, and a touch of pepper spice.The big treat came pairing these two wines with Chef Jesse’s dishes for the second course: local J-bar-S bison 8 hour (tasted like 48) ragu, with pancetta, tomato, (phenomenal) handmade herbed gnocchi, basil, ricotta, and Reggiano; cracked pepper seared Ahi tuna with chanterelle mushrooms and a Bonterra Pinot Noir reduction; potatoes au gratin, Yukon golds with saffron cream, gruyere, and fresh herbs; and roasted delicate squash with creamed Swiss chard, celery root, and caramelized shallot salt.

Holy foodgasm! The bison gnocchi rigotta ragu dish with Zinfandel was stunningly perfect. The Ahi and chanterelles was gorgeous. The veggie dish with creamed swiss chard was divine.

Dessert was a (local) apple strudel of filo, toasted walnuts, cinnamon, Chantilly crème, and homemade ice cream, paired with the Bonterra Muscat which featured aromatic honeysuckle, floral and sweet-tart pear and mandarin notes, finishing with a zing.

As I have attended each of the Chef’s wine dinners at Crush, I had more than one diner ask if there was always this much food, as numerous a selection of excellent tastes, or whether this was a unique abundance. I am happy to say that for $50-$65 per person, depending on the wines being featured, the Chef’s wine dinners at crush in Ukiah are always the best wine dinner experience and a bargain as well.

Up next: On December 11, 2013, Chef Jesse and the entire Crush Ukiah team will deliver another breathtaking multi dish, multi course, meal and the wines featured will be the 2011 Coro Mendocino wines, Mendocino County’s celebration of grapes and winemaking, heritage Zinfandel blends, from Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station. With so many powerhouse wineries involved, and the other dinner these wines are poured at going for $500 per couple, the $65 per person tickets – to taste the entire line up of Coro Mendocino wines with the consistently breathtaking food creations of Chef Jesse – will sell out faster than any previous Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush. Secure your spot today by calling (707) 463-0700 and I’ll see you there!

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John On Wine ­
Blends: The sum should be greater than the parts

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on September 19, 2013 by John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Recently, I had a chance to judge and help pick a winning blend at the Third Annual Testa Barn Blend BBQ in Calpella.

Each table blended 2012 vintages of four wines, Testa Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Carignane, and Petite Sirah. Together with Rosemary Eddy and Sarah Bailey, a winning blend was selected from among the 22 created.

Maria Testa Martinson shared something that John Buchenstein told her, when he was dropping off graduated cylinders for the blending party; he said, “Blends brings people together.”

Fans of different varietal wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon lover and a Zinfandel lover as an example, can come together in their enjoyment of a wine that has some of both of these grapes in the blend. Also, at a blending party, the act of blending, creating a new wine through trial and error, mixing and tasting, with table mates, brings people together.

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Most of the wine you buy and enjoy is a blend. That Cabernet Sauvignon you just picked up likely has some Merlot blended in, just as many Merlot bottles have some Cabernet Sauvignon blended in.

To carry a varietal name on the label, a wine must be made up of at least 75 percent of that named grape, but can have up to 25 percent of non-named grapes blended in.

A reason for the blending is that Cabernet Sauvignon without Merlot is often too firm and harsh, and Merlot without Cabernet can be flabby and insipid; but a little Merlot makes a Cabernet Sauvignon a little softer and a little Merlot in a Cabernet Sauvignon in Merlot provides a little structure.

Throughout Europe, wines are most often blends. Buy a white Bordeaux, and you are likely tasting a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion; a Châteauneuf-du-Pape can include any of 13 varietals but typically includes Grenche, Syrah, and Mourvèdre; while Chianti usually includes Sangiovese and Canaiolo. Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah may be added in a Super Tuscan. These classic, traditional blends do not have grape varietal names on their labels, but instead carry the place name where the wine was born.

One reason these traditional European wine blends for each geographical area exist is simple: the wines being made taste good.

Taking a cue from the old world, California wines, which carry varietal names, allow the blending of complimentary varietals, to also make good tasting wines, and without losing the main grape varietal identification.

Many years ago, at a barrel tasting weekend in the Dry Creek Valley, long before it picked up the reputation of being a drunk fest event, I tasted the best Zinfandel I had ever tasted. The barrel sample at Preston was amazing and I called and called about the wine, as it moved from barrel to bottle, and then through bottle aging, before release. At last, I got to taste the wine, and my disappointment was huge. Almost every Zinfandel I had tasted growing up blended a little Carignane with the Zinfandel, but this wine had blended the full allowable 25 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon into the Zinfandel, a blend I had never tasted before, making the wine taste nothing like any Zinfandel I had ever tasted. The blend yielded a wine that had lost all varietal correctness for me.

Because I loved Preston, I ended up tasting the wine again and again, and with each tasting I came to be upset less and less. Although the wine didn’t really taste like Zinfandel, letting go of the influence of remembering what had been the best barrel sample ever, and asking myself, not as a Zinfandel, but simply as a wine, was it good? Did I like it? The answer surprised me, as in time it became yes. This was, when not judged for varietal correctness, a delicious wine and incredibly food friendly.

Sparkling wines are often blends; any time you see the word Cuvee on a label, that sparkling wine is a blend, usually a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

Every local Coro Mendocino wine ever made is a blend, with Zinfandel comprising 40-70 percent of the wine, and the balance largely grapes that have historically grown alongside Zinfandel in the county going back 100 years.

Winemakers using only Bordeaux varietal grapes in a blend where no varietal meets the 75 percent or higher threshold can label that wine Meritage, if that winery joins the Meritage association and sends one of each case they make to the person who coined the portmanteau, joining the words marriage and heritage, at the program’s inception.

Saracina has their Atrea Old Soul Red, Greg Graziano has his Saint Gregory Pinotrois; local proprietary blends abound.

I find blends exciting because they free a winemaker of the need to hew to varietal correctness, and allow for greater artistry. With no burden of expectation, the wines often surprise and delight.

I frequently serve blends with a dinner and revel in the way the different foods on my plate pull different aroma and flavor notes from the component wines of the blend, allowing the wine to pair brilliantly, but differently, with each dish.

Blend wines are often natural food chameleons, going with a wide variety of flavors, and, as such, should be sought out when enjoying a meal at one of inland Mendocino county’s wine friendly restaurants.

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John Cesano writes about wine and has more than two hundred posts online at JohnOnWine.com

John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Ray’s Station

By John Cesano

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on June 20, 2013

So, wine lover that you are, you were driving on Highway 101 through Hopland and noticed the new sign for Ray’s Station where there used to be a sign for Weibel and wondered what’s going on. Let me tell you, there is a new winery tasting room in town.

Ray’s Station is the Mendocino jewel in the many jeweled crown that makes up the wineries owned by Vintage Wine Estates. Sister wineries include Girard and Cosentino in Napa County, and Windsor Vineyards and Sonoma Coast Vineyards in Sonoma County.

“Ray’s Station wines are a tribute to the intrepid, pioneer spirit of John G. Ray and his unique brand of rugged individualism,” explains the new wine brand’s website. “In 1846, former Army Captain John G. Ray moved West to the rough-and-tumble frontier of Northern California… Hard-working and self-reliant, Ray struck it rich in the Gold Rush. He gathered his family and their earnings ­ literally pickle jars full of gold dust ­ and… in 1859, John G. Ray opened Ray’s Station along the stagecoach route to the geysers… Parched travelers and their weary horses would stop at Ray’s Station… Libations flowed, the food was filling, and the accommodations ­rustic at best… John G. Ray became a local legend for his rustic yet warm hospitality.”

When Weibel sold their winery on Highway 175 between Hopland and Lakeport to Vintage Wine Estates, owners of the Ray’s Station brand, followed by a transfer of their downtown Hopland tasting room lease shortly after, the folks at Vintage Wine Estates demonstrated brilliant business sense by offering Margaret Pedroni and the team she had built with Weibel new jobs opening the Ray’s Station tasting room.

I have often said that people matter enormously in this industry and the community is especially fond of Margaret, who has done an amazing amount for the local wine scene, so it is great news that Margaret is the tasting room manager at the new Ray’s Station tasting room.

Margaret is ably joined by Ashley Quiroga and Jen McAllister in rounding out the crew.

Margaret recently tasted me through the new lineup of wines she is pouring at Ray’s Station. I would encourage my readers to give her a visit, and the wines a taste. Starting a new tasting room is difficult, and I would love it if we could get her a few extra visitors here in the early days. Here are my notes on some of the wines, hopefully they will inspire you to come say hi to Margaret and her team.

NV Ray’s Station Brut, North Coast, $27 ­ This sparkling brut is a blend of 65 percent Chardonnay and 35 percent Pinot Noir, has a nice tight bubble structure, and a nose and flavors of tropical pineapple, peach fruit, and yeasty bread.

2011 Ray’s Station Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast, $16 ­ Tons of seductive aromatics: mown hay (it’s a good smell), citrusy orange and lemon, lush and fleshy fruit..

2010 Ray’s Station Chardonnay, Mendocino, $14 ­ Really nice. Terrific value. Oak, toast, and butter meet citrus, apple, and pear, and they all have a party in your mouth.

2012 Ray’s Station Rose of Carignane, North Coast, $16 ­ This is gorgeously colored, think of a pink carnation and you’ve got the color, while the weight offers a nice mouthfeel, and the flavors are rose petal and strawberry cream. Folks are going to love this.

2011 Ray’s station Zinfandel, North Coast, $17 ­ Rich nose of caramel, butter, and dark berry follows right through to the mouth where the fresh fruit flavors, are met by a touch of oak and nice bright acidity. The result is a feminine, very enjoyably drinkable Zin.

2007 Ray’s Station Syrah, Mendocino, $20 ­ Straight up, this wine is the bomb. Inky purple color, extracted red, purple, and black fruit, cassis – dry – really long finish. Cedar wood notes, supple tannin, leathery, currant, cherry, plum, and on and on and on. Any lineup with this wine in it is a good wine line up.

I also tasted a wonderful red blend called Ray’s Red and a solidly enjoyable soft Merlot that I liked very much.

Margaret’s signature graces two wines she helped complete; the 2008 Weibel Coro Mendocino, and the upcoming 2010 Ray’s Station Coro Mendocino which will be released on Saturday, June 22 at the Little River Inn.

The Ray’s Station tasting room is located where the old Weibel tasting room was, right next to Graziano, at 13275 South Highway 101 Suite 1, and is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

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John Cesano likes all of his winery neighbors, but is especially grateful for Margaret’s friendship.

 

 

 

One of the biggest differences between winemaking in Europe and the United States is that wine made in Europe is made following a protocol established by and for the geographically identifiable area the wine is made in, while wine made in the United States is made with near complete freedom.

A Mendocino County wine might be Chardonnay or Malbec. Napa Valley is likely to contain Cabernet Sauvignon, but could instead contain Sangiovese. Russian River Valley wine bottles could be Pinot Noir or Semillion. In the United States, we have to label our wines with the grape varietal, because there is no rule, rhyme, or reason about what each area can put into the bottle.

When you buy a bottle of Bordeaux at the wine shop, you know which grapes the wine can be made from based on long established historical protocol, and you can have a solid expectation of style, based on every other Bordeaux wine you have ever purchased. Same for Burgundy, Tuscany, and Chianti.

Identified DOCG in Italy Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (controlled designation of origin guaranteed), AOC in France, – appellation d’origine contrôlée (controlled designation of origin), or other assurance of area protocol control, when you pick up a European wine, your expectations are based on where the wine came from.

In the United States, there is no similar geographically identifiable area making wine following a protocol – almost.

Unique in the entire United States is the Coro Mendocino program, established by a collaborative group of winemakers known as the Consortium Mendocino.

Every time you hold a Coro Mendocino wine, from any vintage, from any winery, you are holding something with connections to every other Coro Mendocino wine ever made.

Every Coro Mendocino wine is made from 100 percent Mendocino County grapes, by a Mendocino County winery, in the county, and contains Zinfandel first and foremost, between 40 percent and 70 percent, with no single blending grape varietal exceeding the percentage of Zinfandel used. Blending grapes come from a list of varietals historically grown in Mendocino County alongside Zinfandel, and are typically either Italian varietals – Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and Primitivo, or Rhone varietals – Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Grenache.

Each winery is also allowed up to 10 percent free play, where a single unlisted varietal may be added to the blend. In the last 10 years, I can think of two wines that took advantage of the “free play” to add some Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chemistry limits (sugar, acid and pH), use of oak barrels, and both barrel and bottle aging are also addressed by the protocol to assure a somewhat uniform expectation of style within the Coro Mendocino program.

Each Coro Mendocino wine undergoes rigorous quality tasting trials. Initially, the wines are tasted up to four times by the participating winemakers who make and share notes of constructive criticism in an effort to see each wine reflect the high quality standards embodied by Consortium expectations.

A Selection Panel of five members of Consortium Mendocino – at least three being participating winemakers – conducts a pass/fail qualifying selection tasting. Pass, and you get to label your wine Coro Mendocino and sell it proudly beside every other Coro Mendocino made at $37. Fail and you’ve got nothing. You don’t have Coro and, without the minimum 75 percent needed, you don’t have Zinfandel. John Cesano’s “Random Red” wouldn’t likely sell for $37 or have the cachet a wine labeled Coro Mendocino has.

On Saturday, June 22, Consortium Mendocino will release the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines at a 10th Anniversary Release Party at the Little River Inn. The 2010 vintage was produced by 10 wineries: Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Mendocino, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station.

2010_release_party

A five course meal prepared by chef Marc Dym begins with a passed appetizer course, paired with a white or sparkling wines from each Coro winery, the remaining courses are seated; the three middle courses each feature three or four of the Coro Mendocino wines, grouped by weight, lighter, medium, and heavier, and paired with gourmet dishes. The final course is dessert and paired with your favorite of the 10 tasted Coro Mendocino wines.

Tickets are for couples, include the five course meal and the first tastes of each of the 2010 vintage wines, and a full set of all ten Coro Mendocino wines. The cost is $500 for a couple ticket and, with the 10 bottles of wine plus a five course dinner with wine for two, is a bargain. I attended last year, and wrote quite favorably about the experience.

This year, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Coro Mendocino, there will also be an exclusive V.I.P. tasting of Coro 1.5L magnums, on the night before the release party. Limited to the first 30 release party guests that reserve a spot at $75 per person, Coro wines from the last 10 years, and by producers current and past, will be opened and enjoyed from 4:30 ­ 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 21.

To secure your seats at the release party dinner, and possibly the magnum tasting too, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.
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John Cesano works for McFadden, one of the ten 2010 vintage Coro producers. John, in his role as a local wine writer, has written about the Coro Mendocino program frequently, not because he works for a producer but because he he feels the program can be a critically important introduction to what, at their best, Mendocino County’s wines are about. 

Coro is both Italian and Spanish for Chorus.

Coro Mendocino is a wine program unique in the entire United States, where geographically related wineries make wine following a protocol as is done in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti, virtually everywhere throughout Europe, but nowhere else here. Each Coro Mendocino winery produces a wine featuring Zinfandel, the county’s heritage grape, and each wine contains between 40 and 70% Zinfandel, with the blending grapes being traditional Mendocino County blending grapes – typically Rhone or Italian varietals. The wines get blind tasted several times in panel tastings by the program winemakers, with the intent to make the best possible wines, and each wine must survive a pass/fail independent blind tasting to become Coro. There is more that goes into the program, but take my word for it, the Coro wines are as special as the program is unique, and the 2009 vintage Coro wines are spectacular, every single one. Ten wineries made a 2009 Coro Mendocino, no two are the same and the variations in style are amazing, ranging from lighter to big and dense.

Last night, Saturday June 23, 2012, the tiny town of Little River on the Mendocino Coast played host to the 2009 vintage Coro Release Party. The sold out dinner at the Little River Inn was a huge success as an event; the wines, food, and people gathered made for an incredibly memorable evening. The 2009 vintage was poured by ten wineries: Barra, Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab, Parducci, and Philo Ridge.

In perhaps the most absurd twist of fate, the best way to tell you about last night’s release party dinner for the 2009 vintage Coro Mendocino wines, and the entire Coro Mendocino program itself, is to tell you about an 11th wine that wasn’t poured.

I mentioned that a wine needs a “thumbs up” from a blind tasting panel to be called Coro. I didn’t point out that a “thumbs down” vote would mean not only do you not have a Coro, but because there isn’t the 75% minimum quantity required by labeling law you also don’t have a bottle you could call Zinfandel. As an example, if Guinness McFadden came up short in his Coro making efforts, he might be forced to call the resulting wine, “Guinness’s Random Red,” which is a much tougher sell, even at a lower price, than the quality assured Coro he might have hoped to make.

This year, Owen Smith of Weibel made a wine that was Coro in all respects. The wine adhered to the strict protocol of Consortium Mendocino – the collective name of the Coro producers, and had secured the all-important vote from the independent panel that allowed his wine to be called Coro.

In what Monte Hill, member of the Consortium board, described as a comedy of errors (tragedy of errors might be more accurate), two unfortunate events followed: special bottles used only for Coro were accidentally not ordered by another program winery for Weibel’s wine, and then while waiting for fulfillment of an emergency special bottle order, the wine changed through oxidation.

Weibel’s winemaker Smith made adjustments to the wine and saved it but, when tasted alongside the other 2009 Coro wines, he determined that the wine was no longer Coro. There is a high expectation of quality, and he felt his wine no longer met that high standard. Although the wine could very rightly have been called Coro, and Smith could have been insisted that it be labeled so, honor was paramount. Weibel and Smith both took a hit, but gained nothing but respect for their defense of the Coro program.

I’ve tasted Weibel’s 2009 almost-Coro wine, and while not Coro, I think it drinks nicely. I have suggested the wine be called Integrity and sell for around $15 alongside the other 2009 Coro wines.

Owen Smith and Weibel elevated every 2009 vintage Coro wine released last night, and I was thrilled to be able to sit between Owen and Guinness at the release dinner party, two of Consortium Mendocino’s best Coro winemakers – even if one may not see his name grace a Coro bottle.

Okay, now on to the fantastic event and the ten 2009 Coro wines that were there:

The five course sixth annual Coro Producers Release Party Dinner started with a passed appetizer tartar trio of wild king salmon gravlax with sweet onion and dill aioli, red beet with goat cheese and cilantro vinaigrette, and cherrywood cold smoked sturgeon with cucumber chives and crème fraiche, paired with sparkling, white and rosé selections from the Coro producers.

The saltiness of the goat cheese and earthiness of the beets paired nicely with many of the rosé wines poured, and the smoked sturgeon was reminiscent of many of Mendocino County’s 2008 vintage wines.

Non Coro wines poured at the reception that captured my attention included  the 2011 McNab Ridge Rosé of Syrah, 2011 Barra Pinot Noir Rosé, Parducci’s Rosé of Grenache & Zinfandel, 2010 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc (I absolutely loved it), NV (2009) McFadden Sparkling Brut (this poured out in no time), and 2011 McNab Ridge French Colombard.

Margaret Pedroni, Consortium board member and marketing powerhouse, met with Little River Inn Chef Marc Dym in advance to make sensible food and wine pairings. The Coro wines were split into three groupings, lighter, medium, and bigger.

Monte Hill was the evening’s master of ceremonies, and in his welcoming comments described Coro Mendocino as a “showcase for Mendocino Country’s heritage grape, Zinfandel.” Hill also described the cooperative winemaking process, with blind tastings starting in January with comments from each winemaker, offering constructive criticism and continuing through three more tastings before the big pass/fail tasting the following May.

The Consortium Mendocino is led by an elected officer, the Coro Commander. Commander George Phelan of Mendocino Vineyards commented that in addition to Chorus, “Coro also means community,” then introduced Monte Hill, Margaret Pedroni, and Julie Golden  “secretary and czar” from the board.

The first course paired the lighter styled 2009 Coro wines of McFadden, Mendocino Vineyards, and Brutocao with consummé of Little River shitake mushrooms with fennel and pork dumplings.

Our table included Guinness McFadden, his girlfriend Judith Bailey, two of Judith’s sisters and their husbands, and me – plus Monte Hill and his wife Kay, and Owen Smith. With seven strong McFadden fans at our table (I manage the McFadden tasting room in Hopland), we probably should have had a second bottle of McFadden Coro. I thought it had a lovely cherry noted easy drinkability, and while it paired great with the consummé, I would love to have had some McFadden Coro remaining to try with the second course’s pork belly.

Guinness McFadden said that his farm produces cool climate Zinfandel, and the lighter style McFadden Coro tasted great with the consummé. McFadden also noted that while Phelan is the Coro Commander, Julie Golden does so much work for the Consortium that “Golden is really the Coro Admiral, as Admirals outrank Commanders.”

The second course paired the medium weight 2009 Coro wines from McNab Ridge, Philo Ridge, Golden, and Barra with Coleman natural pork belly with wilted escarole and soft creamy polenta. I love pork belly and polenta, and really enjoyed this entire flight of wines.

The Entrée paired the bigger 2009 Coro wines from Claudia Springs, Fetzer, and Parducci with “cinghiale” wild boar ragout over pappardelle pasta with red chile garlic broccolini.

Bob Klindt of Claudia Springs spoke about the experience of making a Coro, the fellowship, the experience of offering somewhat harsh criticism of a wine in blind tasting only to find it was his own wine that he felt needed improvement.

I have heard the exact same thing from nearly all of the Coro producers at one time or another. The humbling experience of offering yourself notes for improvement in early blind tastings of your own Coro candidate wine.

Zindanelia Arcidiacono, better known as Z, and Coro winemaker for Fetzer, spoke of the experience of making the best wine she could, of putting so much of herself into the process, that now she could invite us to taste Z in the glass.

I think of Coro wines as brilliant food wines as the different grapes blended in with the base Zinfandel add more flavor notes allowing for pairing magic. Claudia Springs’ Coro stood out for me because it was so  big and “Zinny,” tasting the most like a big Zin and least like a blend. I also loved the smooth rich integrated oak meeting rich supple fruit in Fetzer’s Coro.

Dessert was an olallieberry galette with meyer lemon curd and was enjoyed with whatever Coro wine you wanted to pour with it.

Chef Marc Dym, of the Little River Inn, put together an incredibly successful meal around the various wines being featured.

I liked every 2009 vintage Coro Mendocino, each and every one richly deserving of the name, all perfect ambassadors for Mendocino County’s grape growing and wine making prowess.
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If you missed the 2009 vintage release dinner party, there is another opportunity to taste these excellent Coro Mendocino wines in a special showcase event:

Join the Consortium Mendocino at the 2009 Coro Wines Farm to Table Dinner for an evening of great food and wine, followed by dancing under the stars late into the night on the bank of the upper Russian River, Saturday, August 18, 2012, 5:30 PM – 11:00 PM AT McFadden Farm, 16000 Powerhouse Road, Potter Valley, CA 95469. Tickets are $125 per couple, $65 per single. The stars of the evening, the 2009 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines, will be paired with grilled organic grass fed McFadden Farm beef and seasonal local farm fare. Each Coro Mendocino producer will bring a white, rose, or sparkling wine to complement the organic farm to table fare as well. Seating is limited, call to secure your spot today; McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, (707) 744-8463.

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I’m going to join Steve Jaxon tomorrow, Monday, June 25, 2012 at 5:00pm on his KSRO 1350 AM show The Drive With Steve Jaxon. We’ll taste wines and talk about the annual McFadden Wine Club Dinner at McFadden Farm on July 14 and the 2009 Coro Wine Farm To Table Dinner at McFadden Farm on August 18. We’ll taste McFadden wines and Coro wines from various producers and give away a pair of tickets to each event sometime between 5:00pm and 6:00pm, so listen in on the radio or streaming live at http://www.KSRO.com

KSRO 1350AM’s The Drive with Steve Jaxon is the top listened to drive time radio show north of the San Francisco Bay and every Wednesday they give up the last hour of their three hour show, from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM, to Wine Wednesday when different Sonoma County wine industry guests visit; wine is poured and tasted on air, and listeners get a chance to learn about new wines or be reminded about favorite producers.

Steve Jaxon Vicario

Steve Jaxon is a Sonoma County radio institution, and I first met him in 1987 when we both worked at Studio KAFE and KAFE FM96 in Santa Rosa. The KAFE was a restaurant, bar, radio station and nightclub; I was hired to work on the restaurant side of KAFE and Steve was the Program Director for the radio station. In April of 1988, Steve put me on the air, and increased my shifts until I was a regular and had a special weekend show, “Dead Air” dedicated to the Grateful Dead, that lead to an invite to work a national simulcast of a Dead New Year’s Eve show.

Steve played Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman” as the first song on KAFE when we opened. Over the years Steve moved stations, while I became a manager, putting together the restaurant’s wine list. I saw the restaurant close, and was invited to be there for the last radio program. Kindly, the last evening’s air jocks let me take the KAFE out as I was the only person there from the beginning and I played the station off with the same song that Steve had played to start it all.

I contacted Steve through his producer Mike DeWald, asking if I could join them for a Wine Wednesday, representing McFadden, and was given a date I could join them late in March.

Mike DeWald and Steve Jaxon taking over The Late Show with Davis Letterman

I was contacted the morning of the show, asked if I would mind being bumped to the 4:00PM hour. A little disappointed that the after work drive time listeners would not hear about McFadden, I didn’t want to be seen as difficult, and grateful for any time given our Mendocino County wine, I said that there would be no problem with the time change.

Wine Wednesdays on The Drive with Steve Jaxon are sponsored by Santa Rosa’s Bottle Barn, boasting the largest selection of Sonoma County wines anywhere, and until recently the Sonoma County Vintners also sponsored Steve’s show.

There had never been an all Mendocino County – vineyard to winery to tasting room – visitor on Steve’s show and I wanted to make a good impression.

McFadden sells most of the 750 tons of grapes grown on McFadden Farm in Mendocino County’s Potter Valley, only needing to keep a small portion for our smaller production wines. I got to Santa Rosa early so I could spend over an hour finding wines sold at Bottle Barn made from our grapes. I found and mentioned on air wines made by Chateau Montelena, Dashe, and Sterling among others.

Knowing I would also mention Hopland Passport, I also found and mentioned wines sold at Bottle Barn made by some of the 16 wineries that participate in Hopland Passport.

I showed up at KSRO early too, and after greeting Steve with a hug, got a couple of wines into a fridge to cool down a little.

Around 4:00PM, Steve introduced me and I shared the story of McFadden with his listeners. I talked about my boss, Guinness McFadden, decorated war hero and leader in Mendocino County’s organic farming community. I talked about McFadden Farm, organic from day one over 40 years ago, bio diverse, expanding from 40 to 500 acres, CCOF certified organic family farmers of wine grapes, grass fed beef, 100% pure wild rice, air dried herbs and herb blends. I talked about the hydroelectric plant and solar panel arrays that allow us to put carbon neutral in the rear view mirror.

The Hydroelectric Plant on McFadden Farm

I talked about the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland and all the good things we sell there. We tasted four wines, our 2010 Chardonnay – stainless steel held with no malolactic, showing off what great grapes grown right can become; our 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel – a wine Steve was amazed by; our 2007 Coro Mendocino – and then I explained the entire Coro Mendocino program; and our 2010 Riesling – probably our most famous grape having been tasted by Boone, Tanzer, Parker and Galloni over the years in wines made by top producers.

McFadden Coro Mendocino, Steve liked the solid “BF” rating

I mentioned that the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel had been pulled from sales and that I was going to use the last of it to make our April Wine Club orders more special and, if any was left,  pull it out for our Wine Club Dinner at McFadden Farm on Saturday, July 14, 2012 from 5:00PM to 11:00PM. I did say there was still an opportunity to join a McFadden Wine Club to get one bottle in your first order.

We also tasted a steak and wild rice salad, made with organic ingredients and herbs from McFadden Farm. I know I’m the first visitor to Steve’s show with both wine and food from their farm, and a tale of a war hero turned organic farmer with his own hydroelectric plant on the Russian River producing half the energy for the residents and businesses of the valley he lives and grows food in. The stories I tell are amazing because there are so many amazing stories to tell about where I live and work.

I talked about how we cook our organic grass fed beef in organic olive oil and organic herbs right out the back door of our McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room every Hopland Passport, and serve it up with a wild rice salad, to go with our incredibly food friendly wines. I talked about how all 16 Hopland area tasting rooms do amazing things during Hopland Passport and what a vastly better value Hopland Passport at $55 is ($45 if buying early) than $120 Passport tickets for other areas out there.

 Hopland Passport guests eating organic McFadden grass fed beef, wild rice and artichoke heart salad, and green salad

Steve asked me to stay over and join his guests in the 5:00PM hour, William Allen of Two Shepherds and the Rhone Rangers, and Lise Ciolino of Montemaggiore. Both had spectacularly delicious wines to taste. Steve and I largely passed on the available dump bucket between wines.

Lise Ciolino of Montemaggiore

William had $150 tickets to a Rhone Rangers tasting to give away and I had some $45 tickets to Hopland Passport to give away. With apologies to William and everyone at Rhone Rangers, I am thrilled to report that the board melted with the volume of calls from people who wanted to go to Hopland Passport. Perhaps owing to the lack of dump bucket, I was possibly less than elegant, or tactful, in my exuburent elation as I thrust my arms up in a touchdown or victory gesture when Mike typed “Hopland… Hopland… Hopland, OMG ALL HOPLAND!” for Steve to see on a video monitor. After we gave away all the Hopland Passport tickets, I used my powers for good and described how great Rhone wines generally and this tasting specifically were, and we got a caller to take the remaining tickets. I wasn’t kidding, Randall Grahm is a hero to me, I would love to make an all Mendocino County barrel of Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre, and a grand tasting of Rhone wines would seriously rock. When I have a day off, I return to Hopland’s Saracina often because of winemaker Alex MacGregor’s deftness with Rhone varietals.

William Allen, Rhone Ranger extraordinaire

William is a better wine writer than I am, he writes more often and likely reads his own posts with an eye to editing. I write infrequently and post it as I write it, warts and all. I am a better entertainer, with past theater experience, years of radio shows, and a daily opportunity to talk about wines face to face and in person to folks who visit McFadden. I do on air pretty well, I’m not shy, nor hampered by humility. I believe that when painting with words, the big sweeping broad brush is the best brush. I have years of talking about wine at tradeshows across the country. I can be pretty compelling.

In the aftermath of my radio visit, several folks drove from Santa Rosa and points further south up to Hopland just to join a McFadden Wine Club so they could get one bottle of the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel they heard described.

Let me repeat that: we had people, several sets of people, drive at least 45 minutes and up to two hours to join a wine club – agreeing to take at least a dozen bottles of wine in the next year – so that they could buy a single bottle of wine they only heard described on air.

Wow, just wow, that is seriously powerful radio! I can not begin to imagine how much wine is sold after a Wine Wednesday radio visit by a local winery like Mayo Family Winery, between the increased visits to a winery tasting room local to Steve’s listeners and end shelf placement at Bottle Barn. If our sales took a boost, the fortune for Sonoma County wine industry guests of The Drive with Steve Jaxon must be dramatic.

In spite of the fact that my visit was sandwiched between visits with Lily Tomlin and Andy Dick (possibly bigger stars both) that week, Steve and Mike replayed my first hour on a “best of” show the following week, and again we had people come up to Hopland to visit the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room because of my visit with Steve Jaxon on his KSRO The Drive show.

I am returning to The Drive with Steve Jaxon later this month or very early in May, in advance of the May 5 & 6, 2012 spring Hopland Passport wine weekend. I will be bearing incredible wines from participating wineries and some more Hopland Passport tickets to give away to listeners.

Late June, or early July, I will return again to talk about the McFadden Wine Club Dinner at the Farm set for Bastille Day, Saturday, July 14, 2012, and the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission has asked me to talk about the Mendocino County Wine Competition farm to table awards dinner on July 28th, 2012.

I know that with an emphasis on Sonoma County wines, I am lucky that Steve and I are long time friends, and am thrilled our friendship allows a little light to shine on the wine industry one county north of Sonoma. I will always come with homework done, sharing news helpful to the show’s sponsors, and am proud to be the unofficial voice of Mendocino County wine on Steve’s show. To listen to The Drive with Steve Jaxon online any day, not just Wine Wednesdays, from 3:00PM to 6:00PM, go to the KSRO website, and click the area on the right that says. “Listen Live.”

The coolest part of the entire experience was not selling more wine for McFadden, although my boss probably liked that part plenty. The coolest part of my visit was hooking up with Steve again. Frankly, we had as much – or more – fun in the breaks off air sharing memories of events over 20 years past as we did on air. When we parted, Steve gave me another hug, and called me “brother.” Steve is coming to the McFadden Wine Club Dinner, and it will be a blast to share a meal, wines, a night of fun off air with my brother Steve Jaxon.

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